A Con­tract with the Devil

In ad­di­tion to dra­matic stage per­for­mances of Faust, Goethe’s mas­ter­piece has also ap­peared in­ter­na­tion­ally and on screen.

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Guoyao Edited by Roberta Raine

Some peo­ple may think that Faust is just a leg­end, or that there may have been such a per­son who lived in Europe some­time in the mid­dle ages. How­ever, many more peo­ple be­lieve that the char­ac­ter was based on an al­chemist named Jo­hann Ge­org Faust (1480–1540) who was born near Weimar in Ger­many. His fa­ther was a pi­ous Chris­tian but Faust him­self in­dulged in mys­ti­cal pow­ers.

The story goes that he signed a con­tract with the Devil by sell­ing his soul, which is the leg­end im­posed on Faust by later gen­er­a­tions. By means of adding highly coloured de­tails to his story, his ex­pe­ri­ence was grad­u­ally handed down as a story with a per­fect plot. In ad­di­tion, as a neg­a­tive ex­am­ple, it was in­cluded in reli­gious books by Chris­tians who ad­mon­ished fol­low­ers for ad­her­ing to cer­tain be­liefs. In the book His­to­ria von D. Jo­hann Fausten (“The Life of Dr. John Faust”), which ap­peared in the 16th cen­tury, the plot was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the one be­fore: Af­ter com­plet­ing his deal with the Devil, Faust trav­elled ev­ery­where, wal­low­ing in car­nal plea­sures. In the end, he was led into hell by the Devil.

Dur­ing the Re­nais­sance Pe­riod in Europe, through his cre­ative work en­ti­tled The Trag­i­cal His­tory of Doc­tor Faus­tus, Bri­tish drama­tist Christo­pher Mar­lowe gave Faust the clas­si­cal im­age of a dili­gent learner, thus break­ing with reli­gious tra­di­tion. This was the first script that was derived from the leg­end of Faust. Later in the 18th cen­tury, when the En­light­en­ment Move­ment be­gan in Ger­many, by virtue of his own the­o­log­i­cal back­ground, Got­thold Ephraim Less­ing, a Ger­man play­wright, let Faust com­pro­mise with God in one scene in his play. Later, Faust be­came the pro­tag­o­nist of the fa­mous tragic play cre­ated by Goethe.

Goethe’s Life­long Magnum Opus

In the au­tumn of 1749, Jo­hann Wolf­gang von Goethe was born to a wealthy fam­ily in Frank­furt, Ger­many. Even in his boy­hood, he was very in­ter­ested in lit­er­a­ture and drama. He ben­e­fit­ted from the ed­u­ca­tion given to him by his stern fa­ther and com­pas­sion­ate mother— es­pe­cially his mother’s skil­ful and pa­tient en­cour­age­ment and guid­ance, which helped to broaden his lit­er­ary un­der­stand­ing and in­sights of life.

At the age of 16, Goethe went to Leipzig to study. As he lis­tened to lec­tures on poetic art and prac­tised writ­ing styles, he also stud­ied paint­ing. He also had a pre­lim­i­nary taste of love and mer­rily sang of the love that he was feel­ing.

In Leipzig, the sec­ond largest city in the east­ern part of Ger­many, Goethe had his first en­counter with the story of Faust. In a well-known restau­rant called Auer­bachs Keller, a mu­ral on the wall that told Faust’s story left a very deep im­pres­sion on young Goethe. Later, when he wrote Faust Part One, the first part of the full play, this restau­rant was the only place men­tioned in the story that was real.

This magnum opus lasted a life­time. When Goethe be­gan to cre­ate Faust in 1768, lit­tle could he have imag­ined that it would take him 64 years to com­plete! He fi­nally com­pleted it in 1831 and the very next year he passed away. In his long life, Goethe went through iden­tity changes, in­clud­ing the shift from be­ing the privy en­voy of the lega­tion to the privy coun­sel­lor of the Weimar Duchy. Yet what he found most dif­fi­cult in his of­fi­cial ca­reer was that he could not de­feat the baser in­stincts of the Ger­man peo­ple; on the con­trary, their baser qual­i­ties de­feated him. He felt he had no choice but to throw him­self into re­search and paint­ing, which he en­joyed greatly. But in this writer’s life, love was still essen­tial. Af­ter main­tain­ing an in­ti­mate bond with a lady named Char­lotte von Stein for ten years, in 1806 he mar­ried Chris­tiane Vulpius, with whom he lived for an­other ten.

Goethe’s var­i­ous life ex­pe­ri­ences such as study­ing, hav­ing an of­fi­cial ca­reer and love all ended up be­ing ex­pressed in his great work, Faust.

A Vo­lu­mi­nous Work

There is no one sin­gle plot that runs through­out the whole of Faust. In­stead, the main story is de­vel­oped through the per­son­al­ity of Faust as the pro­tag­o­nist, as well as the process of his dis­sat­is­fac­tion with re­al­ity and his un­remit­ting pur­suit of ide­al­ism. It is the rugged path of Faust’s spir­i­tual ex­plo­ration that re­ally runs through the en­tire play.

Mephistophe­les, a de­mon that acts as a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the Devil, made a bet with God that God would lose Faust in the end; God took the bet and told Mephistophe­les that as long as Faust was alive, Mephistophe­les could “lead him down­ward on your road.” It is this re­mark that sets up the over­ar­ch­ing con­flict of the nar­ra­tive. Later, in or­der to ob­tain vast knowl­edge and eter­nal youth, Faust

had no scru­ples about sell­ing his soul and signed a con­tract with the Devil. The Devil agreed to wait for Faust, whose soul would be­long to the Devil af­ter his death.

The plot of mak­ing a deal with the Devil re­flected the in­ner con­flicts of Euro­peans dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages, when Europe was con­trolled by the Catholic church. The Euro­peans had a su­per­sti­tious be­lief in mag­i­cal arts and ar­cane knowl­edge, but in or­der to ob­tain th­ese, they be­lieved they had to sell their souls. This plot had an ele­ment of satire in it. For a long time, the story of Faust was re­garded as that of reli­gious per­sua­sion. The ten­ta­tive temp­ta­tion im­posed on Faust by Mephistophe­les co­in­cides with the snake and the for­bid­den fruit stealth­ily tasted by Eve in the Bible.

Em­bod­ied Goethe’s life­long thought and artis­tic ex­plo­ration, Faust is char­ac­terised by a mag­nif­i­cent and in­ge­nious con­cep­tion, as well as rich and eru­dite con­tent. At the end of the tale, Faust ob­tained a new life by “re­turn­ing to na­ture,” but mun­dane hap­pi­ness such as eat­ing, drink­ing, play­ing and mak­ing merry still failed to as­suage the sor­row in his heart. Faust ex­pe­ri­enced many ups and downs, cir­cling be­tween han­ker­ing af­ter lust and re­strain­ing his de­sire.

Mephistophe­les re­peat­edly in­duced Faust to work in the ser­vice of of­fi­cials, and he ended up giv­ing up such tran­sient pur­suits and went away. He fi­nally found love and mar­ried He­len of Troy. Through his life­long ex­plo­ration of try­ing to con­trol na­ture, in the end he found in­ner con­tent­ment. Faust’s ex­plo­ration con­sisted of five dif­fer­ent tor­tu­ous courses. He al­ways tried to break away from the shack­les of power and over­come both in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal con­flicts. He was able to re­pu­di­ate all the de­spi­ca­ble things of life and his own er­ro­neous think­ing, and threw him­self into seek­ing love and truth.

Europe, a bour­geois in­tel­lec­tual class emerged that was dis­sat­is­fied with the sta­tus quo and sought to ex­plore the mean­ing of life and so­cial ide­al­ism. Thus, the spir­i­tual or­deal Faust un­der­went can be re­garded as his own per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of that pe­riod of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ism and of real life in Ger­many, which of course rep­re­sented Goethe’s own life and artis­tic prac­tice.

Faust in­cludes 25 scenes with­out any acts. The sec­ond vol­ume is com­posed of 27 scenes di­vided into five acts. By in­te­grat­ing re­al­ism with ro­man­ti­cism, the play re­flects the feel­ings of the ris­ing bour­geoisie dur­ing the Euro­pean Re­nais­sance. When this great work of Ger­man lit­er­a­ture was pub­lished, it demon­strated the bound­less po­ten­tial of the Ger­man lan­guage. What’s more, it oc­cu­pied a prom­i­nent po­si­tion as one of four ma­jor Euro­pean clas­si­cal works, the other three be­ing the Homeric epics, Dante’s Divine Com­edy and Shake­speare’s Ham­let.

Rid­dles and Spir­its of Faust in China

“When I was sent to work in the ru­ral ar­eas in Shaaxi Prov­ince be­tween 1969 and 1975, I bor­rowed this book from an ed­u­cated youth who grad­u­ated from Bei­jing No. 57 High School. He worked 15 kilo­me­tres away and was al­ways show­ing off to me, say­ing that he owned this book. So I walked to his home and asked him to lend me the book, say­ing that I would def­i­nitely re­turn it. But I was so de­lighted with the book that I could hardly bear to let it out of my hands. Later, he got so im­pa­tient that when­ever he went to the mar­ket he would tell other peo­ple to ask me to give the book back to him. Af­ter some time, he was still so wor­ried about the book that he walked 15 kilo­me­tres to my house just to fetch the book. I said, ‘ You came all this way just to get the book back, so I’ll re­turn it to you.’” This book was none other than Goethe’s Faust, and the man who walked 15 kilo­me­tres on a moun­tain road to bor­row the book was Xi Jin­ping, later pres­i­dent of China.

Pres­i­dent Xi once said to Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and a group of Ger­man si­nol­o­gists: “Ger­man lit­er­ary works, in­clud­ing those by Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, are mag­nif­i­cent. At the age of 14, I read Goethe’s The Sor­rows of Young Werther and later read Faust. At that time, there were three Chi­nese ver­sions of Faust. It was re­ally a bit dif­fi­cult for one to un­der­stand Faust be­cause it con­tains so much imag­i­na­tion.” The Ger­mans re­sponded, say­ing, “Even some of us Ger­mans can‘t un­der­stand it, so it’s no sur­prise you could not!”

The trans­la­tion by Guo Moruo (1892– 1978) pub­lished by the Peo­ple’s Lit­er­a­ture

Pub­lish­ing House in 1959, the trans­la­tion by Qian Chunqi (1921–2010) pub­lished by the Shang­hai Trans­la­tion Pub­lish­ing House in 1982, and the trans­la­tion by Dong Wen­qiao (1909–1993) pub­lished by Fu­dan Uni­ver­sity Press in 1983.

The de­mon Mephistophe­les be­came well known through­out the world be­cause of Faust. In con­tem­po­rary times, this fig­ure has be­come more divorced from the orig­i­nal text, grad­u­ally be­com­ing a sym­bol used in pop­u­lar cul­ture. Ac­cord­ing to Ger­man writer Thomas Mann, mu­sic and demons are in­ter­twined, for mu­sic is by its na­ture “de­mo­niac.” There­fore, the pro­tag­o­nist in his Doc­tor Faus­tus is a com­poser. Through the com­poser’s ex­plo­ration into “de­monism,” Thomas Mann ex­pressed his think­ing on moder­nity in Ger­many.

Faust Adap­tions

In 1994, an ex­per­i­men­tal ver­sion of Faust was co-pro­duced by the Na­tional Theatre of China and Bei­jing’s Goethe In­sti­tute, and di­rected by Lin Zhao­hua. The van­guard stage set­ting fea­tured a “heavy me­tal” look, with a move­able me­tal crane, a giant statue of Venus, a con­verted mil­i­tary jeep, a big re­mo­te­op­er­ated air­ship, and rock mu­si­cian Wang Feng and his band play­ing their song “No. 43 Bao­jia Street.” Ac­tors Han Tong­sheng and Ni Da­hong played the young Faust and the old Faust, re­spec­tively, and di­rec­tor Lou Naim­ing played the de­mon Mephistophe­les.

The 1994 ver­sion of Faust was per­formed in China, an­other stage play of the same name di­rected by Xu Xiaozhong, who was 81 years old at the time, was per­formed at the Na­tional Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts. On the huge off-white screen were un­du­lat­ing re­mote moun­tains with float­ing clouds. God sat in the mid­dle with his loyal an­gels stand­ing on both sides. The sound of the solemn mu­sic The Cre­ation, com­posed by Joseph Haydn, played in the back­ground. “If the his­tory of world lit­er­a­ture and art lacked Goethe, it would be in­com­plete. If one could not get to know Goethe through Faust, he could not be thor­oughly un­der­stood,” said Xu.

To pre­serve the orig­i­nal form of Faust, Xu Xiaozhong only cut out some de­tails of the story with­out re­vis­ing the orig­i­nal play. “It is in fact a kind of re­cre­ation for ac­tors to chant the script just as they re­cite po­ems, be­cause each of them will add his own un­der­stand­ing and feel­ings. Faust lives in the heart of ev­ery­one be­cause ev­ery­one is sur­rounded by ide­al­ism and de­sire,” Xu said. The play, brought to Bei­jing by the Shang­hai Dra­matic Arts Cen­tre, fo­cused on the main events in Faust’s life, in par­tic­u­lar his ex­pe­ri­ences of love, which are sim­ple but full of sym­bolic mean­ing. Faust was played by an “old hand” named Xu Chengx­ian, a fa­mous per­form­ing artist who was over 60 at that time. He por­trayed both the young and the old Faust smoothly. Mephistophe­les, the de­mon, was por­trayed by ac­tor Zhou Ye­mang, who once played the role of Lin Chong in the fa­mous novel The Wa­ter Mar­gin. The evil and ug­li­ness of the “de­mon” un­der the red coat was por­trayed in a re­lax­ing man­ner, which made au­di­ence feel ha­tred towards him. His per­for­mance was both skil­ful and so­phis­ti­cated.

As part of the First Lao She In­ter­na­tional Theatre Fes­ti­val, Faust was per­formed by the Slovene Na­tional Theatre Drama com­pany at the Bei­jing Cap­i­tal Theatre. The three acts in­cluded Faust en­ter­ing into a con­tract with the Devil, his pur­suit of love, and his death. The stage de­sign, done in Gothic style, used an in­ter­ac­tive for­mat com­bin­ing wa­ter and light, which gave spec­ta­tors a novel sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence.

Apart from the splen­did dra­matic stage per­for­mances of Faust, Goethe’s mas­ter­piece has also ap­peared on the world stage and on screen in var­i­ous forms. For ex­am­ple, the well-known com­poser Franz Liszt cre­ated a sym­phony en­ti­tled Faust, which put the im­ages in Faust to mu­sic. Liszt not only con­sulted the work of Goethe, but also stud­ied the folk leg­end as well as other lit­er­ary works about Faust. French com­poser CharlesFrançois Gounod also cre­ated a five-act opera of the same name by adapt­ing Goethe’s Faust.

Jean- Christophe Mail­lot, who be­came fa­mous by com­bin­ing clas­sic fairy tales such as Cin­derella, Sleep­ing Beauty and Swan Lake with mod­ern bal­let, di­rected The Monte- Carlo Bal­let in a won­der­ful per­for­mance of Faust for Chi­nese au­di­ences at the Na­tional Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts. Hav­ing pre­vi­ously di­rected Gounod’s opera Faust at the Hes­sian State Theatre of Wies­baden in Ger­many, Mail­lot spe­cially chose Liszt’s sym­phony as mu­sic for the bal­let. “It is a chal­leng­ing and sig­nif­i­cant thing to at­tempt to ex­press this philo­soph­i­cal sub­ject in dif­fer­ent artis­tic forms,” Mail­lot said.

In 2015, Faust was per­formed as a Pek­ing Opera by the China Na­tional Pek­ing Opera Com­pany, in what was a stun­ning mas­ter­work. Scriptwriter Li Meini said that be­fore work­ing on the script, she could well imag­ine the dif­fi­culty of adapt­ing such a great work into Pek­ing Opera. This per­for­mance of Faust used a unique form to ques­tion the na­ture of hu­man­ity while at the same time re­vealed the tragic source of suf­fer­ing: de­sire.

In the 1926 film ver­sion of Faust, di­rected by Ger­man di­rec­tor Friedrich Wil­helm Mur­nau, Faust was re­turned to pop­u­lar cul­ture. Through the use of grotesque ex­pres­sion­ism and bril­liant spe­cial ef­fects, the film still deeply delved into the Faus­tian theme of “re­demp­tion and love,” though it lacked a cer­tain dra­matic ten­sion.

A stage drama of Faust

Faust (a film) di­rected by Alek­sandr Sokurov

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.